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How to put on an event with your neighbours

Through the ups and downs of the last eighteen months something surprising has happened. Many people have reported a sense of connectedness to their community and their neighbours, whether it was the weekly clap for the NHS, street WhatsApp groups or chatting over the fence. We were all forced to take in a new reality. The limitations of lockdown were a springboard for deepening friendships. Eighteen months on, I have a renewed vision for local community.

My experience of running events for our community started in deepest, darkest lockdown. Families around us were fed up, they had nothing to do and nowhere to go. Into this space came an incredible opportunity. We were able to build community and run events that communicated the good news of Jesus Christ. Here is our story with some principles that you can apply into your community.

Start with where your neighbours are at

Our area loves Halloween. For weeks before, the kids learn and talk about it in school. On the night itself most families get involved. Lots of effort goes into decorating homes, getting dressed up and going trick or treating. It’s the one weekend in the year that people come knocking on my door wanting something. Yet we as a family have often shut our curtains, switched off the lights and told the kids we don’t believe in Halloween. That was until the pandemic hit. 

In 2020 I ended up being part of a local Halloween trail. We as a family decided to be a ‘House of Light’. We decorated our house with beautiful lights. We wanted to create laughter, so we decorated funny pumpkins and at the end of our driveway we gave away gift bags. These included sweets, glow sticks and little stories that raise curiosity about Jesus. At the end of the night we had given away 600 bags. 

This one event was a catalyst for building community. In the following eighteen months many more initiatives and events happened. Starting with where my community is at opened up friendships and trust. This meant that in the future we could run a nativity trail and give away Easter story craft packs. 

So start with where your neighbours are at. Are there events already happening that you could join in with?

So start with where your neighbours are at. Are there events already happening that you could join in with? Where are the connection points in your community? What are the natural points of the year where you could gather together? For me, the key was to stop and start in a place where I was meeting with others on their terms. I think this is one of the main reasons why what we’ve done has had an impact.

Build community not just events

It would have been easy to run events with no contact in between them. But I wanted more than that. I wanted to encourage people to get to know each other and care for one another. One of the ways we did this was to create a Facebook page (you could do this on WhatsApp or another platform). 

A friend of mine lives in a rural hamlet and noticed that the local tennis courts were not being used in lockdown. So they set up a WhatsApp group for all the houses nearby. He said for the first time in thirty years he was chatting daily with his neighbours. Months on they’re all still playing tennis and beginning to make friends.

Studies have shown that friendship development happens within 3–9 weeks after meeting. Friendships grow when hours are spent together, activities are shared together, and when people talk to each other every day. Putting on events with my neighbours does exactly this. It has meant that I have become closer friends with them. We’ve spent time working together, listening and asking questions. I have also had opportunities to share my life and the gospel with them.

Run events with your neighbours not for them

The events that worked best were those that had the greatest buy-in from the start. Everything we organised had an open invite to anyone in the community to join us. This meant that our teams were full of people from all ages and stages of life, from all beliefs and backgrounds. 

The events that worked best were those that had the greatest buy-in from the start.

We ran plenty of events that were good wholesome events for the community. Events that brought people together and celebrated life. Once we’d established a level of trust we were able to run events with a clear Christian message. We ran a nativity trail and gave out Easter craft packs from driveways. Two friends got in touch about these events. Both told me they were atheists. One said, ‘Sorry Nay, I can’t get involved with these events, but would love to get involved again in the future.’ The second friend said, ‘I’m not a Christian, do you mind if I join the nativity trail?’ The diversity of the team has made these events as successful as they are. The more people you can get involved, the more buy-in you will get from the whole community.

Do not be afraid 

The main thing that stops me from initiating and running events like this is fear. Life has got busy again and everyone seems self-sufficient once more. It was obvious in lockdown that we needed each other. But now social media posts show happier times. I begin to question myself, ‘Am I imposing myself on others? What will others think of me?’ 

The main thing that stops me from initiating and running events like this is fear… Jesus knows we will be afraid.

Organising something for your neighbours will always take courage. Jesus knows we will be afraid. The phrase ‘do not be afraid’ appears around 365 times in the Bible. Each time it appears it is backed up with a promise about God. A statement and promise for every day of the year. How we need to hear those words over and over again. 

I love the humanity of the ending of Matthew’s gospel: ‘The women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.’ Will you join me today, afraid yet full of joy, as we seek to communicate the good news of Jesus to our neighbours?

Nay Dawson

Nay Dawson is the Regional Training Co-ordinator for IFES Europe and Founder of Passion for Evangelism.